$5-million settlement for family of hostage deputies killed by mistake

Los Angeles County supervisors on Tuesday approved a $5-million settlement with the family of an aspiring TV producer who was held hostage in a West Hollywood apartment before sheriff's deputies mistook him for an armed suspect and killed him.

John Winkler, 30, was fatally shot in the chest when he ran out of the apartment April 7, 2014, and came into the line of fire of three sheriff's deputies, authorities said.

Winkler was with two friends at the Palm Avenue apartment when one of the men's roommates, Alexander McDonald, 28, pulled a knife on them, a witness testified in court last year.

Another hostage, Liam Mulligan, testified last year that McDonald had made a deadly vow: "'You guys are going to die tonight.'"

Mulligan said that after deputies arrived and knocked on the apartment door, McDonald began stabbing the hostages and knifed him in the neck. As blood spurted from his neck, Mulligan rushed for the door. Winkler followed, also trying to escape.

Yet when deputies were called to the apartment complex, a witness told them that two men were in the apartment — not four — and that the attacker was a thin white man in a black shirt, according to sheriff's officials.

Deputies announced themselves at the apartment door but got no reply, according to a sheriff's statement. Then, officials said, the door "suddenly opened" and a man came out, covered in blood.

"Simultaneously, Winkler ran out of the door, lunging at the back of the fleeing victim," the Sheriff's Department said. "Both ran directly at the deputies."

Deputies mistook Winkler for the attacker and opened fire, also striking Mulligan in the leg.

At a news conference after the shooting, then-Interim Sheriff John Scott called the death of Winkler — like the death of any innocent person — an officer's "greatest nightmare."

He said the deputies had the "best of intent," namely that they were trying to protect a stabbing victim from an attacker.

McDonald was arrested and later pleaded not guilty to several felony charges, including one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of torture.

He remains in custody on $4.1-million bail, according to jail records.

In a statement released Tuesday after the settlement was approved, Winkler's mother, Lisa Ostegren, said that her son's death continues to be a source of pain and grief.

"It is a tragedy when any parent loses a child," Ostegren said, "but learning that John was killed by those sworn to protect him is almost too much to comprehend."

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattHjourno

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